THE LOCAL PRESS called it "The Triumph of the Locals". Today most of us simply know that the first game at Central Park happened on the 6th September 1902 against Batley - and leave it at that. None of us were around all those years ago so memories have been lost and stories passed down from father to son have faded. In these modern days most people will remember fondly the LAST game at Central Park but the first game in it's own right has an equal amount of significance.
So what happened? What was it like? At the time, the Wigan club moved around rugby pitches at Folly Field, Prescott Street and played on Wigan football's Springfield Park, home of Wigan United FC. But at the end of the 1900-01 season, all the Wigan club's assets were put up for auction. This included the Prescott Street ground. After auction, the club received £31.15s.10d, with the grandstand alone getting £15.10s.0d. With money in their pockets, the Wigan club start the 1901/02 season up the road at Springfield Park which was to be their only season at the ground.
Mid-way through the 1901/02 season a meeting was called for all club members to attend. On 23rd January, 1902, in a basement at the Public Hall on King Street, plans were put forward for a new ground at Powell Street. With the success of the meeting plans were advanced and work commenced at Powell Street on an area of grazing land to be converted into a football ground.
But here we will see Batley, the mighty 'Gallant Youths' from Mount Pleasant who were a powerhouse at the time in the Northern Union. They had already won the Challenge Cup three times but at the start of the 1902/03 Northern union season they were showing mid-table form.
NOTES ON THE MATCH*: Here is the match as reported in the local press. Very interesting I may add. We all know what the last game was like and here is how the first game was. Try and visualise it as you read. The report tells us that the weather was a fine September day - perfect weather for the opening. There is a question mark over the actual attendance however: we see that there were 'several thousand spectators' in the opening paragraph but further down, the Athletic News quote states there was around 10,000. Other sources suggest that the figure was close to 9,000.
We also get an insight into the contrasting fortunes of both clubs in the article. Wigan had just finished top of the Lancashire Senior League and moving into a 'well equipped stadium' - so a team on the up. Batley were Cup Kings of the time, as stated, already winning the Challenge Cup three times but on a downward curve due to an ageing team. The last paragraph is a quote from the Yorkshire Post and we can clearly see that it is an ageing team needing new blood to keep their success going as well as their reputation. Batley have never won the Challenge Cup since the 1800s and haven't won anything major apart from a Yorkshire Cup in 1912 and League Championship in 1923. Wigan however... from this first game at Central Park... well, we all know how Wigan went... The match report comes form the 13th September 1902 edition of the Wigan Enquirer:
The teams were:
Wigan - Mason, Barr, Eckersley, MacAuly, Rouse, Nelson, Rothwell, Ball, Brown, Hilton, Halliwell, Collier, Vickers, Barton, Beesley
Batley - Wilson, Davies, Fitzgerald, Goodall, Kershaw, Oakland, Midgley, Rogers, Stubler, Munns, Fizzard, Wolstenholme, Dewes, Mozler, Judge
Ref: T.H. Marshall (Bradford)
THE LEAGUE – FIRST DIVISION
WIGAN v. BATLEY
TRIUMPH OF THE LOCALS
The Wigan Rugby Club inaugurated the completion of its new ground under the most favourable circumstances. The enclosure, which henceforth will be known as Central Park, is one of the best equipped football grounds in the county, and the officials of the organisation are to be congratulated upon the successful efforts they have put forth to provide the old West Lancashire club with a home of its own. Mr J.A. Fairhurst, who along with his father, Mr. T. Fairhurst, of Kilhey, has manifested a warm and generous interest in the welfare of this club, kindly undertook the duty of formally marking the completion of the undertaking, and he discharged his task in the presence of some seven thousand spectators. It was a glorious day, in fact a red letter day in the annals of the pastime locally and what was more gratifying Wigan triumphed in their first engagement in the Northern Union. Batley brought a strong contingent, whilst Mason of Morecambe featured at full back in the Wigan team. Wigan started, and Barr following up a strong kick by Eckersley tackled Wilson on the Batley line, and from the ensuing scrimmage Barr rushed over at the corner. Rothwell kicked a goal. Midgeley then attempted to breakaway from a scrimmage at centre, but Rothwell collared him. A couple of free kicks to Batley Gained much ground and several scrimmages were contested at the Wigan “25”. Mason ultimately cleared with a strong kick, and a forward rush, headed by Hilton, carried play well into the Batley half, but this advantage was lost by Wigan again being penalised. MacAuley tried to break through, but Oakland tackled him. Eckersley sent the leather to the visitors’ goal line, and Davies and Wilson mulling. Rouse followed up at top speed and got over the line at the corner. Rothwell failed at goal. Davies was next to the forw with a very tricky run, Rouse bringing him down. Passing between the Batley backs gave Davies an opportunity and he rushed over in a favourable position, the same player landing a goal. Halliwell scored for Wigan on the interval. Half-time score: Wigan 1 goal 3 tries (11 points), Batley 1 goal 1 try (5 points). Resuming, Wigan at once crossed the Batley “25”line, but an infringement nullified the effort, and play went into the Wigan half. Nelson and Rothwell, by smart play, enabled Wigan to assume the aggressive for a short time. Batley gradually worked down to the Wigan goal-line but Nelson relieved with a lengthy kick. A rush was then made for the Batley post, but offside play spoiled the movement. At three-quarter time the score was: Wigan, eleven points. Batley, five points. Davies made several splendid attempts to score, but was well collared on each occasion. Goodall next got away, and was also checked by Beasley. Mason then relieved, and Rothwell removed operations into the Batley half. Lengthy kicked was indulged in, Batley having the advantage. Play was next on the Batley lines, and after smart play by Rouse, Halliwell rushed over at the corner, Nelson failing at goal. Batley then pressed, and from a pass by Wilson, Wolstenholme scored. Davies failing at the goal-kick. Result
WIGAN............................1 – 4...14
BATLEY............................1 – 2....8
A GOOD START
The “Athletic News” makes the following comments; - Wigan fulfilled their first engagement at Central Park with Batley, the Yorkshire cup fighters, as the visitors, and the finely equipped ground could not have been opened under more suspicious circumstances. Glorious weather prevailed, some 10,000 persons passed through the turnstiles, and to the immense delight of the local followers of the pastime, Wigan triumphed. There were few changes in either contingent from last season, and the only new man the Wiganers introduced was Mason, the former fullback of Morecambe, though in a fortnight’s time Mason will be joined by a Morecambe colleague in Anderson, who is to replace the veteran nelson behind the pack.
WIGAN OPEN THE SCORING
The Wigan section of the crowd was soon put in a good humour, for within the first three minutes of the hostilities, the pushful Barr dashed across the Batley line at the corner, whilst Rothwell increased the points by landing a goal. Smartly executed movements on the part of the Tykes in the rear division, and vigorous rushes by the local stalwarts forming the front brigade, were elements which neutralised matters, as it were, and for some time afterwards the encounter was of a pretty even character. Rouse, however, ultimately took advantage of a bit of bungling on the part of Davies and Wilson, and in a trice the Radcliffe youth was over at the corner. From the outset Davies had been exceedingly active on behalf of the visitors, and the first real opportunity he got, which came from a grand pass by Oakland, he out distanced the Wiganers, and from a try he registered, he steered the leather in the right direction. As a response, the home forwards made matters livelier than ever, and Halliwell, in the midst of a crowd of players, put up another three points.
scored first try at Central Park
THE SECOND HALF
At the interval Wigan were thus leading by eleven points to five, and the second half had considerably progressed ere the score was changed. Then Halliwell repeated his performance, to be followed by a try from Wolstenholme, of the opposing team. The game was by no means of a scientific character, and it was apparent from the disjointed work that neither set of players had got into stride. This fact, and the circumstance that early in the afternoon several of the men were crippled must have materially accounted for a lack of combination. The Batley fifteen certainly did not uphold their reputation. They were badly beaten in the pack, and whilst Midgeley and Oakland, the halves, were fairly smart on the leather, the three-quarters, with the exception of Davies, did little effective work, “Wattie” being distinctly the best exponent among the Yorkshire representatives. As far as the Wiganers were concerned, Barr, Eckersley, and Rouse, three backs, were all badly injured in the first half, and it was mainly owing to the fine efforts of the forwards that the Wiganers were able to achieve victory by 15 points against 8.
PRAISE FOR WIGAN
Another writer states: - Batley, for the second season in succession, opened their campaign in Lancashire, and, like last winter’s experience at Warrington, came to grief at Wigan, the recently exalted club doing the trick for the Yorkshiremen in the most approved style. Last season, Wigan earned the right to join the First Division, and right well have they justified their promotion.
The “Yorkshire Post” states: - Wigan commemorated the opening of their new ground at Central Park by beating Batley. The Mount Pleasant team were very disappointed; their efforts were of a spasmodic character, and altogether there was an indefiniteness about the majority of their movements. The question rises to one’s mind, are Batley wise in playing the old lot? Men who have borne the heat and burden of the day in such successful seasons as the gallant youths have experienced may well claim exemption now, and a liberal infusion of new blood, maybe, would improve the team. For many reasons – for the sake of Wattie Davies, their new leader – we hope to see the reputation of Batley club maintained.
Tommy Martyn, for it is he, holds the accolade of scoring the last try at Central Park. The first try was scored by Jimmy Barr, a local winger from Tyldesley with Dickie Rothwell, a hooker, scoring the first goal. Central Park back then didn't have changing room facilities so the players had to change in the Prince of Wales Hotel in Greenough Street. This public house no longer exists as the landscape has changed greatly. Today the Prince of Wales Hotel would be on the corner of Orchard Street and Greenough Street (or the corner of the Hotel). Imagine walking across the junction from here to the Tesco petrol Station to get into Central Park wearing kit.